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HMS Minotaur (1793)
Shipwreck turner.jpg
The shipwreck of the Minotaur, oil on canvas, by J. M. W. Turner
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Minotaur
Ordered: 3 December 1782
Builder: Woolwich Dockyard
Laid down: January 1788
Launched: 6 November 1793
Honours and

Participated in:
Battle of the Nile
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Copenhagen (1807)

Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Egypt"[1]
Fate: Wrecked, 22 December 1810
General characteristics [2]
Class & type: Courageux class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1723 (bm)
Length: 172 ft 3 in (52.50 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 47 ft 9 in (14.55 m)
Depth of hold: 20 ft 9 12 in (6.3 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

Gundeck: 28 ×  32-pounder guns
Upper gundeck: 28 ×  18-pounder guns
QD: 14 × 9-pounder guns

Fc: 4 ×  9-pounder guns

HMS Minotaur was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 6 November 1793 at Woolwich.[2] She was named after the mythological bull-headed monster of Crete. She fought in three major battles - Nile, Trafalgar, and Copenhagen (1807) - before she was wrecked, with heavy loss of life, in December 1810.


The ship fought at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, engaging the Aquilon with HMS Theseus and forcing her surrender, an operation that cost Minotaur 23 sailors dead and 64 wounded.[3] Minotaur was present at the surrender of the French garrison at Civitavecchia on 21 September. She shared the prize money for the capture of the town and fortress with Culloden, Mutine, Transfer, and the bomb vessel Perseus.[4] The British also captured the French polacca Il Reconniscento.[5] After the French surrendered Rome on 29 September 1799, Captain Thomas Louis had his barge crew row him up the Tiber River where he raised the Union Jack over the Capitol.[6] In May 1800, Minotaur served as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Keith at the siege of Genoa.[3] On 28 April, the squadron captured the Proteus, off Genoa.[7][Note 1]

She was present at the landings in Aboukir Bay during the invasion of Egypt in 1801 where she lost a total of three men killed, and six wounded.[10] Because Minotaur served in the navy's Egyptian campaign (8 March to 8 September 1801), her officers and crew qualified for the clasp "Egypt" to the Naval General Service Medal that the Admiralty authorised in 1850 to all surviving claimants.[Note 2]

On 28 May 1803 Minotaur, in company with Thunderer, and later joined by Albion, captured the French frigate Franchise. Franchise was 33 days out of Port-au-Prince, and was pierced for twenty-eight 12-pounder guns on her main deck and sixteen 9-pounders on her quarterdeck and forecastle, ten of which were in her hold. She had a crew of 187 men under the command of Captain Jurien.[Note 3]

Minotaur was present at the Battle of Trafalgar under Captain Charles John Moore Mansfield, where she was instrumental in capturing the Spanish ship Neptuno, although Neptuno's crew recaptured her in the storm that followed the battle.[3][14]

HMS Minotaur served as the flagship of Rear-Admiral William Essington at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807.[3]

Then on 25 July, during the Anglo-Russian War, 17 boats from a British squadron under the command of Captain Charles Pater, consisting of Minotaur, Princess Caroline, Cerberus and Prometheus, attacked a flotilla of four Russian gunboats and a brig off Aspö Head near Fredrickshamn in the Grand Duchy of Finland, Russia (present–day Hamina, Finland). Captain Forrest of Prometheus commanded the boats and succeeded in capturing gunboats Nos. 62, 65, and 66, and the transport brig No. 11. The action was sanguinary in that the British lost 19 men killed and 51 wounded, and the Russians lost 28 men killed and 59 wounded. Minotaur alone lost eight men killed and had 30 wounded, of whom four died of their wounds on the next day or so.[15] In 1847 the Admiralty issued the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "25 July Boat Service 1809" to surviving claimants from the action.[16] Cerberus then moved to the Mediterranean in 1810.


Whilst sailing from Gothenburg to Britain, under the command of John Barrett, the Minotaur struck the Haak Bank on the Texel off the Netherlands in the evening of 22 December 1810, after becoming separated from her consorts, HMS Plantagenet and HMS Loire. She rolled on her side rapidly, where waves dismasted her and pounded her hull which began to split. Prior to the roll, 110 of her crew had taken to her boats and soon reached shore, where they informed the Dutch authorities of the disaster. Another 20 survivors were rescued by a pilot vessel.[17] The authorities placed the survivors under custody and refused to dispatch more rescue vessels until the following morning. The rescue party found however that apart from four men who reached shore by clinging to wreckage, no survivors remained on the vessel or in the surrounding water, with the death toll being between 370 and 570.[10][17] All survivors were taken to France as prisoners of war.[17]

Three and a half years later, when the prisoners were released, the customary court martial decided that the deceased pilots were to blame for steering the ship into an unsafe position, having misjudged their location by over 60 miles because of the weather.[10] The Dutch authorities were criticised for their failure to despatch rescue boats sooner by some of the survivors, including Lieutenant Snell, who gave examples of "how easy it would have been for the Dutch admiral in the Texel to have saved, or to have shown some wish to have saved, the remaining part of the crew".[18] Reports from the Dutch chief officer of the marine district of the North coast indicated that two boats were sent out to the examine the wreck site on the morning of 23 December, but were prevented from approaching by the wind and seas.[18] Maritime historian William Stephen Gilly concluded that "There is not the slightest doubt but that, had the Dutch sent assistance, the greater part of the ship's company would have been saved".[18]


The famed landscape painter J. M. W. Turner depicted the sinking, though the subject was not originally the Minotaur, but a generic merchant ship. Turner had been producing sketches in preparation for the painting as early as 1805, but by the time he had completed the painting in 1810, the recent wreck of the Minotaur was a subject of much discussion. He named the painting to capitalise on this public interest.[19]


  1. An initial payment of prize money was paid in 1805. However, a later payment arrived in May 1812. This amounted to £451 7s, which was supposed to be shared among possibly 2900 claimants.[8] Because the amount was so small relative to the number of men who would share it, the ships' agents invested the amount in tickets in the state lottery. Apparently, the tickets won £30.[9]
  2. A first-class share of the prize money awarded in April 1823 was worth £34 2s 4d; a fifth-class share, that of an able seaman, was worth 3s 11½d. The amount was small as the total had to be shared between 79 vessels and the entire army contingent.[11]
  3. The original notice in the London Gazette gave the frigate's name as Françoise.[12] The next edition corrected the name to Franchise.[13]


  • Gily, William Stephen, Narratives of shipwrecks of the Royal navy between 1793 and 1849, compiled from official documents in the Admiralty, with a preface by W.S. Gilly, J.W. Parker: 1850
  • Grocott, Terence, Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras, Caxton Editions, Great Britain: 2002. ISBN 1-84067-164-5.
  • Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  • Phillips, Michael. Minotaur (74) (1793). Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Retrieved 2 November 2008.
  • Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. ISBN 1-85367-276-9. 
  • Van Alphen, M.A., G.M.W. Acda and A.M.C. van Dissel, Kroniek der Zeemacht: Gedenkwaardige gebeurtenissen uit vijf eeuwen Nederlandse marinegeschiedenis., Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam, 2003. ISBN 90-6707-570-1

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